I am writing this series of birth myths to try to dispel some of the untruths that the obstetric world has passed off as reality to unsuspecting mothers. The point of this series is to use evidence based research to answer questions about birth not to just simply rely on ‘its-always-been-done-that-way’ as a reason to make certain choices during the birth experience. Today’s birth myth concerns the restriction many hospitals place on eating and drinking. Is it really to the benefit of the mother and baby?

Statistics on Eating During Labor

Despite the longstanding hospital policy that women should be restricted to ice chips and water during labor, a large-scale study from The Cochrane Review finds that these policies have absolutely no benefits to women or their babies.

The analysis consisted of 3,130 women and analyzed both the outcome for the mother’s and the babies. The three outcomes reviewed for women were having a cesarean section, having a vaginal birth and the mother’s satisfaction of the birth. The two primary outcomes for the babies were APGAR scores and blood glucose levels.

“Our study found no difference in the outcomes measured, in terms of the babies’ wellbeing or the likelihood of a woman needing a C-section,” said Gyte, one of the co-authors.  “There is no evidence of any benefit to restricting what women eat and drink in labor.” The researchers also emphasize the value of allowing women to make choices regarding these matters.

The study shows that although many women have no interest in eating during labor, others find the experience of food restriction absolutely harrowing.

So, if statistically, restricting food intake during labor does nothing to help the mother or baby achieve a healthier or happier birth, why is it standard hospital policy?

History of Eating Polices in Birth

The Cochrane Review points out that the history of this hospital policy goes back to a 1946 research published in Gynecology. The study found that women were dying or suffering illness when under general anesthetic for a cesarean section because the contents of their stomach was entering their lungs. Therefore, eating and drinking was considered a risk to both mother and baby.

Today, however, women who are required to have a c-section are NOT put under general anesthetic. Modern cesarean section techniques use regional anesthesia making the risk of aspiration extremely small.

Unfortunately, this outdated practice is another case where the obstetric field continues to use policies that are irrelevant and often counter-indicated simply because its “always been done”. It’s important to realize that hospital policies are not always implemented because it is best for the mother.

This example and countless others that I hope to elucidate in this series show very clearly that you shouldn’t assume that your doctor has your best interest in mind. It is our responsibility as mothers, doulas and family members to stay informed.

What To Eat During Labor

As a doula, I encourage women to eat during early labor before they no longer feel the desire to eat. I, personally, carry honey sticks as a quick rush of energy for the mother but there are all kinds of other options. Carbohydrates, for instance, are a good choice because they digest easily and release energy throughout.

This is important because although labor is holy beautiful work, it is still work. You need all the energy you can get.

Here are some ideas that pack tons of energy and are easy to eat:

  • Liver Pate
  • Nuts and Dried Fruits like Dates
  • Hamentaschen
  • Beef Stock
  • Miso Soup
  • Honey Sticks
  • Ginger Tea
  • Raspberry Leaf Tea Ice Cubes
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Groaning Cake (see recipe here)

What do you do, though, if the hospital  you are giving birth at will still not allow you to eat or drink even after you’ve pointed out that there are no benefits? You have three choices: you can stay at home as long as you can and eat there, sneak in some cake while the doctor isn’t looking or change hospitals if its important enough to you.

If you have any other ideas of great labor foods please comment below.

Join New York Doula for more Birth Myth’s in upcoming posts.






Mandisa Singata, Joan Tranmer, Gillian ML Gyte. Restricting oral fluid and food intake during labour. The Cochrane Library, 2013 DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003930.pub3 Practice Guidelines for Obstetric Anesthesia: An Updated Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia, Anesthesiology:Volume 106(4)April 2007pp 843-863.